The Americas United in A Festival

By Jesús Aguado

The annual party that gathers readers and writers in the world’s best city is about to start.

The 13th edition of the San Miguel Writer’s Conference (February 14–18 at the Hotel Real de Minas) will feature seven keynote addresses, five panels, more than 100 workshops, and a legendary Mexican fiesta, among many other activities.

Economy, Safety and Tourism

The festival’s executive director Susan Page told Atención that the conference (which is for readers and writers) has succeeded in its idea of being something intimate and small thanks to the combination that the city offers: the venue, the keynote speakers, and also the reputation that the conference has achieved in Canada, México and the United States.

Although the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival has been ready to take flight for years, just 10,000 people participate annually.

“Probably many of them are the same, but we have close to three thousand single individuals participating in an activity,” said the director.

Another reason why the festival has not grown may be because of the venue. There is not enough infrastructure at the hotel where it has always been held.

Page said that people want to come to the “best city in the world” because San Miguel is a city that ought to be visited. Due to its beauty, it also attracts the best and most well-known writers of the Americas. “Many people come to the conference because they want to enjoy the city,” she said, remarking that the festival has an extraordinary reputation as one of the finest in the Americas.

Even for the workshops—with 60 positions available—the festival receives annually close to 200 applications. “But we want just the best,” said Page.

It also helps that the festival is bilingual. All the keynote addresses are simultaneously translated to English or Spanish. Also, the event always includes at least one Mexican writer, some from Canada and, of course, some from the United States.

Figures from the city’s Touristic Council state that the festival brings close to 2 million dollars in revenue to San Miguel in just five days. This revenue end up in the coffers of hotels, taxis, restaurants, bars, galleries, stores, and more.

According to Page, they never receive questions about security. “The people that come to the festival are wise enough to not pay attention to that propaganda,” she says. “If they have a question, we always compare the murder records of San Miguel with those from Los Angeles or Chicago. Here in San Miguel [the rates are] minuscule compared to them. If there are questions, we make clear that the drug wars are miles away from this city; it is very safe here.”

This Year

The invitation is open, and those interested can get a full package or single tickets for the addresses, panels, workshops, or the fiesta. Among the keynote speakers are:

Wally Lamb (author of six bestsellers from the New York Times: I’ll Take You ThereWe Are Water, Wishin’ and Hopin’The Hour I First BelievedI Know This Much is True and She’s Come Undone). His conference will be: “Capturing the I in Fiction and Nonfiction.” According to the conference webpage, Lamb will focus his lecture on how the main characters of his novels—flawed people laboring to become better people—develop in his imagination and on the page.

“My talk will also examine the challenges and benefits of teaching and editing the work of women who are much more than just the crimes of which they have been convicted” wrote Lamb. Wed, Feb 14, 6pm.

 

John Vaillant has written books like The Golden Spruce and The Tiger. His most recent children’s book The Jaguar’s Children is a novel about an undocumented Mexican immigrant trapped inside the empty tank of a water truck that has been abandoned in the desert by smugglers. It was a shortlisted nominee for the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and received glowing reviews from the New York Times.

Vaillant’s Mexican roots go to the 1800s, when his great-grandfather decided to abandon Indiana and look for a better fortune in Mexico City. “This is why his daughter, my grandmother, spoke fluent Spanish and why she was on hand for Frida Kahlo’s bedridden gallery opening in 1953. It is also how she met my grandfather, George Vaillant, author of the first comprehensive English-language archaeological history of the Aztec nation; and it’s why my father’s first language was colloquial Mexican Spanish, learned from his nurse while his parents were away doing excavations.”

In his talk, Reverse Osmosis, he will explore this history and how, even in faraway New England, it infused him with a deep, almost osmotic affinity for Mexico that he did not know he had until he moved there with his family for a year in 2009. This event is on Friday, February 16 at 2pm in Spanish.

“How does our brain differentiate fiction and reality? And where does literary fiction fit between the two?” formulates philosopher and author Jorge Volpi. Based on those questions, he will develop his talk Real Fictitious Realities. The Novel and the World. In this compelling keynote speech, Volpi will use science and philosophy to show how the novel moves between reality and fiction and how that movement allows us to explore the world and ourselves.

Volpi is the author of the international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, winner of the Biblioteca Breve Prize and the Deux Océans-Grinzane Cavour Prize, which together with The End of Madness, Season of Ashes, and Memorial of Deception form his “Tetralogy of Power” series. This event takes place Friday, February 16, 6:30pm in Spanish.

Emma Donoghue’s lecture is entitled The Challenges and Joys of Adaptation. Emma Donoghue has not only written in many genres (history, biography, fiction, drama for radio, stage and film) but has often retold her stories in different forms, most recently adapting her bestselling novel Room into an Oscar-winning film and a stage play. She will discuss the particular demands and advantages of each form, as well as the process of collaboration with others in re-imagining her work for theatre and screen, and the rather different task of adapting the writings of others.

Panels

One of the five panels will be Writers as Activists in Dangerous Times. In this panel, those participants will address questions like: How can we as writers change the world and shift the conversation? Do we have a special responsibility as writers? What role can personal testimony and individual stories play in fighting injustice? Does our responsibility as citizens extend to our writing life? Do we have to address the numerous current public crises in our own writing? What is the impact of this public drama on personal creativity? How can writing be used as a self-care tool for activists who feel burned out and overwhelmed?

Our Cultures, Ourselves is the multicultural panel that will feature: Rita Dove, John Vaillant, Jorge Volpi y Joseph Boyden. “In general, when people refer to culture, they tend to think of other cultures—Mexican quinceaños or Irish wakes or aboriginal walkabouts. They often gloss over their own culture as a culture in its own right, because one’s own culture is often invisible. The proverb ‘the fish are the last to see the water’ captures this built-in cultural blindness.”

Tickets are available at sanmiguelwritersconference.org Although the prices can vary, single tickets for a keynote speech are US$30; panel, US$20; and US$60 for the Mexican Fiesta. Check Festivals and Events of Qué Pasa for a more complete calendar.

 

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